HOUSTON — In an era when openers are in vogue and they’re facing the team who started the trend, everything’s coming up aces for the Houston Astros this postseason.
Houston will start Justin Verlander (Goochland High, ODU) in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against Tampa Bay on Friday, followed by Gerrit Cole on Saturday night in Game 2 and Zack Greinke in Monday’s Game 3. It’s a group of pitchers that are arguably the best in baseball and some believe to be the finest collection of arms on one team in the majors in years.
“As long as I’ve got the type of top-end rotation, then I certainly firmly believe in the starting pitcher setting the tone and doing all the things that a normal, traditional starting pitcher would do ... I love the three at the top of our rotation, and I’ll take that model every day,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said.
Hinch and Rays manager Kevin Cash have been friends for years, and before the Astros played Tampa Bay in late August he thought about texting Cash to needle him a little about their different philosophies on starting pitchers.
“(What) I wanted to do in August was text him and say: ‘I don’t know if you’re going with an opener, but I’m going with Verlander, Greinke, and Cole,’” Hinch said. “And the same goes for this series.”
Despite their penchant for openers, the Rays will go with three true starters in the first three games of this series. Tyler Glasnow will start Game 1, 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell gets Game 2 and Charlie Morton, who got the win in their wild card game against Oakland on Wednesday night, will start Game 3.
Though all three are starters, it’s unclear how long Glasnow and Snell will be able to go after both missed huge chunks of the season with injuries. Glasnow sat out from May 11-Sept. 8 with a right forearm strain and pitched just 4ß innings in his last start. Cash said he thinks it’s “reasonable” to expect Glasnow to be able to pitch six innings on Friday.
Glasnow came to the Rays in July 2018 from Pittsburgh with Austin Meadows in a big trade for Chris Archer. He said it hasn’t really sunk in yet that he’ll make his playoff debut opposite Verlander on Friday.
“This is everything you dream about,” he said. “You’re a little kid, you think about playing playoff baseball. Now that it’s here, it’s pretty amazing.”
Snell, out from July 22-Sept. 17 after arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his throwing elbow, is an even bigger question after he didn’t get out of the third inning in any of his three September starts.
Houston’s offense is certainly dangerous, but there is little question that the rotation is the star of this loaded team which won an MLB-best and franchise-record 107 games to reach the playoffs for the third straight season.
Verlander and Cole are front-runners for the Cy Young after both put together dominant seasons. Verlander, who threw his third no-hitter this season, won 20 games for the second time in his career and first since winning a career-high 24 in 2011 with Detroit when he won the Cy Young and MVP. Cole set a team record by winning his last 16 decisions and topped the AL with a career-best 2.50 ERA. His career-high 326 strikeouts were the most in the majors and set a franchise record that had stood since 1979 when J.R. Richard fanned 313.
Greinke, acquired from Arizona at the trade deadline, went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts after the trade.
“There’s no doubt that their starting pitchers are dominant,” Cash said. “We’re going to face a guy (Verlander) that’s arguably the best pitcher for the last decade and a half, two decades ... we’ve just got to go out there and have good at-bats when any of these guys happen to make a mistake or lack an executed pitch, we’ve got to be ready for it.”
Houston shortstop Carlos Correa is healthy and will start Game 1. Correa missed the last week of the regular season because of a sore back but has recovered and is ready to return for the postseason.
The 25-year-old Correa played just 75 games this season after sitting out from May 26-July 26 with a broken rib. He missed a month with the back problem, which also caused him to sit out last week.
Rays 5, Athletics 1: Recently activated Yandy Diaz hit two home runs, and Charlie Morton silenced the powerful Athletics on the mound as Tampa Bay eliminated Oakland in the AL wild card game.
After playing only one game since late July because of a foot injury, Diaz hit a leadoff homer and went deep again in the third inning.
Avisail Garcia hit a two-run drive in the second, and Morton had all the support he needed as Tampa Bay advanced.
Tommy Pham homered in the fifth for the 96-win Rays, who had the smallest payroll in the majors at $66.4 million.
The A’s have lost nine straight winner-take-all games since 2000, going 1-15 with a chance to advance to the next postseason round. Their only win came in 2006 against the Twins before being swept in the AL Championship Series by the Tigers.